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If you’re wondering how those scratches appeared on your vehicle, you’re not alone. You might be surprised at the source of a scratch, it can be anything from improper cleaning to prickly hedges.
In this guide, I’ll break down the most common causes of car scratches and share how you would approach each one when trying to repair it.
Causes of Car Scratches
Here are the 11 most common causes of scratches:
Damage whilst cleaning your vehicle
One of the main way’s scratches can appear is during washing, drying or detailing your vehicle.
Small particles of dirt can get trapped in your cleaning equipment such as a sponge or cloth and will cause scratches as you drag it across the paintwork.
You can minimise the risk by using appropriate equipment. Swap out that sponge for a wash mitt and exchange the old bath towel for a proper microfibre towel.
A sponge will simply push the dirt across the paintwork, whereas a wash mitt will trap it within the long strands and keep it away from the surface.
Drive through car washes
Opting for the quick and easy option of a drive through automatic car wash might save you time in the short run, but it can cause much more hassle in the longer term.
Those large rollers that spin across your vehicle are made to be heavy duty, which means they aren’t soft and smooth like a wash mitt.
In addition, these large machines accumulate a lot of dirt over time (you won’t believe how much dirt some cars have on them). This dirt can get stuck in the bristles, leaving scratches and swirls on your car.
If you look through detailing forums, you’ll find countless examples of automatic car wash users complaining about scratches and other broken car parts such as mirrors or antennas.
Even the slightest bump or collision can result in scratches or other damage to your paintwork.
Regardless of whether you have had contact with a stationary object or another vehicle, the damage from an accident is likely to be expensive to repair.
You should always fully inspect the area of your vehicle after an accident. It’s vital to exchange details with other involved, even if you don’t immediately spot any damage as you may discover it later.
As someone from remote parts of Wales, I can speak from plenty of experience with this one.
If you drive along narrower roads in the country, try not to get too close to the edge as the hedges can cause damage to your paint.
The sticks and twigs that protrude out into the road can brush against your paint causing light scratches.
The damage from passing hedges is only likely to be light and can be easily buffed away with polish, but over time these can build up so try not to get too close.
Gravel or small stones on the road
Your car can become scratched or damaged when driving as small stones and gravel from the road hits the paint.
The stones can be flicked up by your own wheels hitting the areas near the bottom of your bodywork but can also be chipped up by passing cars or those in front of you.
Whilst small stones and rocks are generally unavoidable, you can look out for other forms of debris that can damage your paint such as sticks, dead animals or pieces from other cars.
Rubbing against the car
You can inflict damage on your vehicle without realising by rubbing against the paintwork.
If you’ve ever tried to squeeze into your car when it’s in a tight spot, then this might be a familiar idea to you.
Something on your clothing such as a zip, or things in your hand like your keys can scratch your vehicle without you noticing.
Of course, this is unintentional so it’s unlikely that much pressure will have been applied. The scratches are likely to be light damage to the clear coat which is easily covered.
Speaking from personal experience, the car park is a major spot for picking up a scratch.
Not only is there the risk of scratching your vehicle against other cars, but pedestrians can also cause damage.
If you are parking elsewhere then other risks are at play. You could scratch your vehicle against the curb or parking barriers.
When parking at home, you should be particularly careful if you have a sloped driveway as this can result in scratches along the bottom of the bumper as you pull in or drive away.
Snow and other bad weather
The weather is a bigger culprit than you might think. Whilst hail stones are the obvious offender for scratching your vehicle, it’s the indirect effects that you should be weary of.
For example, grit salt on the roads can chip up and scratch your paint if you travel over them too fast.
If you’re from the UK like me, you’ll be used to waking up in the winter and having to scrape the snow of your vehicle. Be careful not to be too enthusiastic when doing this, as the plastic scrapers can cause scratches in the process. It’s better to use de-icer if you can.
Whilst we’re on the subject of weather, it’s worth mentioning the damage that sunlight can do to your car. Whilst this isn’t scratches, the UV rays can cause your paintwork and trims to fade and look very dull.
Keying or other intentional damage
When most people see scratches on their vehicle, the first thought is that it was intentional, but this is actually very unlikely.
Still, if you have made some enemies, they may vandalise your vehicle, or it may even be someone you don’t know just looking to cause damage.
This will usually be in the form of keying, which involves using a key or sharp object to scrape along the paint. As this is intentional, it will be very hard to remove.
How to Prevent Car Scratches
Unless you keep your car in your garage all the time, it’s impossible to avoid or prevent all scratches. However just knowing what the main causes of scratches are can help.
Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind that can minimise your risk:
- Using the correct equipment when cleaning and detailing your vehicle such as wash mitts and microfibre cloths
- Avoid drive through car washes
- Keep a good distance between your vehicle and hedges, especially on narrow country roads
- Try to keep your car under cover in winter to avoid the need for a snow scraper
- Avoid tight spaces in the car park
How to Fix Deep Scratches
The depth of the scratch and how many layers of your car’s paintwork have been damaged will impact the method of repair.
There are three layers to your car’s paintwork, here is how to identify each and the way to fix them:
Clear Coat Scratches
The vast majority of cars produced nowadays have a clear coat. This is the very top layer over the base colour.
Scratches from hedges, zips, gravel on the road are all likely to be clear coat scratches. This is not a big issue and is considered a light scratch.
You can identify a clear coat scratch by rubbing your finger over the top, if your nail just glides straight across then it’s likely just a clear coat scratch.
Clear coat scratches can be repaired with some polish and a good buff.
Base Layer Scratches
The base layer (also called the colour coat) is the main layer of paint that gives the vehicle it’s colour.
A scratch to the base layer will be much deeper than the clear coat. If you rub your finger across and your nail catches in the scratch, it’s probably a base layer scratch.
To properly repair this, you would need to sand it down and repaint the body. This would have to be done by a professional body shop.
However, you can cover the scratch up fairly well by wet sanding the area around the scratch to blend it in and then applying some polish and buffing it well with a machine.
The primer is underneath the base layer. A primer scratch is the deepest type of scratch and will expose the bare metal of a car.
Scratches to the primer need to be treated by a professional and can’t just be covered up. The metal will be exposed to the elements and can rust if left untreated as shown in this image.
Kieren is the founder and editor-in-chief of Auto Adviser. Kieren created the site to share his passion of cars that began long before he passed his driving test and is now a recognised contributor in the industry. Outside of cars, Kieren loves drinking coffee and travelling to far-off lands.